1. Now I Paul myself beseech you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ, who in presence am base among you, but being absent am bold toward you:
1. Pro ipse ego Paulus exhortor vos per lenitatem et mansuetudinem Christi, qui secundum faciem humilis quidem sum inter vos, absens autem audax sum in vos.
2. But I beseech you, that I may not be bold when I am present with that confidence, wherewith I think to be bold against some, which think of us as if we walked according to the flesh.
2. Rogo autem, ne praesens audeam ea fiducia, qua cogito audax esse in quosdam, qui nos aestimant, acsi secundum carnem ambularemus.
3. For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh:
3. Nam in carne ambulantes, non secundum carnem militamus.
4. (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;)
4. Siquidem arma militiae nostrae non carnilia sunt, sed potentia Deo ad destructionem munitionum, quibus consilia destruimus.
5. Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;
5. Et omnem celsitudinem, quae extollitur adversus cognitionem Dei: et captivam ducimus omnem cogitationem ad obediendum Christo:
6. And having in a readiness to revenge all disobedience, when your obedience is fulfilled.
6. Et in promptu habemus vindictam adversus omnem inobedientiam, quum impleta fuerit vestra obedientia.
Having finished his exhortation, he now proceeds partly to refute the calumnies with which he had been defamed by the false apostles, and partly to repress the insolence of certain wicked persons, who could not bear to be under restraint. Both parties, with the view of destroying Paul's authority, construed the vehemence with which he thundered in his Epistles to be thrasodeilian -- (mere bravado,) because when present he was not equally prepared to show himself off in respect of appearance, and address, but was mean and contemptible. |See,| said they, |here is a man, that, under a consciousness of his inferiority, is so very modest and timid, but now, when at a distance, makes a fierce attack! Why is he less bold in speech than in letters? Will he terrify us, when he is at a distance, who, when present, is the object of contempt? How comes he to have such confidence as to imagine, that he is at liberty to do anything with us?| They put speeches of this kind into circulation, with the view of disparaging his strictness, and even rendering it odious. Paul replies, that he is not bold except in so far as he is constrained by necessity, and that the meanness of his bodily presence, for which he was held in contempt, detracted nothing from his authority, inasmuch as he was distinguished by spiritual excellence, not by carnal show. Hence those would not pass with impunity, who derided either his exhortations, or his reproaches, or his threatenings. The words I myself are emphatic; as though he had said, that however the malevolent might blame him for inconstancy, he was in reality not changeable, but remained uniformly the same.
1. I exhort you. The speech is abrupt, as is frequently the case with speeches uttered under the influence of strong feeling. The meaning is this: |I beseech you, nay more, I earnestly entreat you by the gentleness of Christ, not to compel me, through your obstinacy, to be more severe than I would desire to be, and than I will be, towards those who despise me, on the ground of my having nothing excellent in external appearance, and do not recognize that spiritual excellence, with which the Lord has distinguished me, and by which I ought rather to be judged of.|
The form of entreaty, which he makes use of, is taken from the subject in hand, when he says -- by the meekness and gentleness of Christ Calumniators took occasion to find fault with him, because his bodily presence was deficient in dignity, and because, on the other hand, when at a distance, he thundered forth in his Epistles. Both calumnies he befittingly refutes, as has been said, but he declares here, that nothing delights him more than gentleness, which becomes a minister of Christ, and of which the Master himself furnished an example.
Learn of me, says he, for I am meek and lowly. My yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:29, 30.)
The Prophet also says of him,
His voice will not be heard in the streets: a bruised reed he shall not break, etc. (Isaiah 42:2, 3.)
That gentleness, therefore, which Christ showed, he requires also from his servants. Paul, in making mention of it, intimates that he is no stranger to it. |I earnestly beseech you not to despise that gentleness, which Christ showed us in his own person, and shows us every day in his servants, nay more, which ye see in me.|
Who in presence He repeats this, as if in the person of his adversaries, by way of imitating them. Now he confesses, so far as words go, what they upbraided him with, yet, as we shall see, in such a way as to concede nothing to them in reality.
2. I beseech you, that I may not be bold, when I am present. Some think, that the discourse is incomplete, and that he does not express the matter of his request. I am rather of opinion, however, that what was wanting in the former clause is here completed, so that it is a general exhortation. |Show yourselves docile and tractable towards me, that I may not be constrained to be more severe.| It is the duty of a good pastor to allure his sheep peacefully and kindly, that they may allow themselves to be governed, rather than to constrain them by violence. Severity, it is true, is, I acknowledge, sometimes necessary, but we must always set out with gentleness, and persevere in it, so long as the hearer shews himself tractable. Severity must be the last resource. |We must,| says he, |try all methods, before having recourse to rigor; nay more, let us never be rigorous, unless we are constrained to it.| In the mean time, as to their reckoning themselves pusillanimous and timid, when he had to come to close quarters, he intimates that they were mistaken as to this, when he declares that he will stoutly resist face to face the contumacious |They despise me,| says he, |as if I were a pusillanimous person, but they will find that I am braver and more courageous than they could have wished, when they come to contend in good earnest.| From this we see, when it is time to act with severity -- after we have found, on trial being made, that allurements and mildness have no good effect. |I shall do it with reluctance,| says Paul, |but still I have determined to do it.| Here is an admirable medium; for as we must, in so far as is in our power, draw men rather than drive them, so, when mildness has no effect, in dealing with those that are stern and refractory, rigor must of necessity be resorted to: otherwise it will not be moderation, nor equableness of temper, but criminal cowardice.
Who account of us. Erasmus renders it -- |Those who think that we walk, as it were, according to the flesh.| The Old Interpreter came nearer, in my opinion, to Paul's true meaning -- |Qui nos arbitrantur, tanquam secundum carnem ambulemus;| -- (|Those who think of us as though we walked according to the flesh;| ) though, at the same time, the phrase is not exactly in accordance with the Latin idiom, nor does it altogether bring out the Apostle's full meaning. For logizesthai is taken here to mean -- reckoning or esteeming. |They think of us,| says Paul, |or they take this view of us, as though we walked according to the flesh.|
To walk according to the flesh, Chrysostom explains to mean -- acting unfaithfully, or conducting one's self improperly in his office; and, certainly, it is taken in this sense in various instances in Paul's writings. The term flesh, however, I rather understand to mean -- outward pomp or show, by which alone the false Apostles are accustomed to recommend themselves. Paul, therefore, complains of the unreasonableness of those who looked for nothing in him except the flesh, that is, visible appearance, as they speak, or in the usual manner of persons who devote all their efforts to ambition. For as Paul did not by any means excel in such endowments, as ordinarily procure praise or reputation among the children of this world, (Luke 16:8,) he was despised as though he had been one of the common herd. But by whom? Certainly, by the ambitious, who estimated him from mere appearance, while they paid no regard to what lay concealed within.
3. For though we walk in the flesh. Walking in the flesh means here -- living it the world; or, as he expresses it elsewhere,
being at home in the body. (2 Corinthians 5:6.)
For he was shut up in the prison of his body. This, however, did not prevent the influence of the Holy Spirit from showing itself marvelously in his weakness. There is here again a kind of concession, which, at the same time, is of no service to his adversaries.
Those war according to the flesh, who attempt nothing but in dependence upon worldly resources, in which alone, too, they glory. They have not their confidence placed in the government and guidance of the Holy Spirit. Paul declares that he is not one of this class, inasmuch as he is furnished with other weapons than those of the flesh and the world. Now, what he affirms respecting himself is applicable, also, to all true ministers of Christ. For they
carry an inestimable treasure in earthen vessels,
as he had previously said. (2 Corinthians 4:7.) Hence, however they may be surrounded with the infirmities of the flesh, the spiritual power of God, nevertheless, shines forth resplendently in them.
4. For the weapons of our warfare. The warfare corresponds with the kind of weapons. He glories in being furnished with spiritual weapons. The warfare, accordingly, is spiritual. Hence it follows by way of contraries, that it is not according to the flesh In comparing the ministry of the gospel to a warfare, he uses a most apt similitude. The life of a Christian, it is true, is a perpetual warfare, for whoever gives himself to the service of God will have no truce from Satan at any time, but will be harassed with incessant disquietude. It becomes, however, ministers of the word and pastors to be standard-bearers, going before the others; and, certainly, there are none that Satan harasses more, that are more severely assaulted, or that sustain more numerous or more dreadful onsets. That man, therefore, is mistaken, who girds himself for the discharge of this office, and is not at the same time furnished with courage and bravery for contending; for he is not exercised otherwise than in fighting. For we must take this into account, that the gospel is like a fire, by which the fury of Satan is en-kindled. Hence it cannot but be that he will arm himself for a contest, whenever he sees that it is advanced.
But by what weapons is he to be repelled? It is only by spiritual weapons that he can be repelled. Whoever, therefore, is unarmed with the influence of the Holy Spirit, however he may boast that he is a minister of Christ, will nevertheless, not prove himself to be such. At the same time, if you would have a full enumeration of spiritual weapons, doctrine must be conjoined with zeal, and a good conscience with the efficacy of the Spirit, and with other necessary graces. Let now the Pope go, and assume to himself the apostolic dignity What could be more ridiculous, if our judgment is to be formed in accordance with the rule here laid down by Paul!
Mighty through God. Either according to God, or from God. I am of opinion, that there is here an implied antithesis, so that this strength is placed in contrast with the weakness which appears outwardly before the world, and thus, paying no regard to the judgments of men, he would seek from God approbation of his fortitude. At the same time, the antithesis will hold good in another sense -- that the power of his arms depends upon God, not upon the world.
In the demolishing of fortresses. He makes use of the term fortresses to denote contrivances, and every high thing that is exalted against God, as to which we shall find him speaking afterwards. It is, however, with propriety and expressiveness that he so designates them; for his design is to boast, that there is nothing in the world so strongly fortified as to be beyond his power to overthrow. I am well aware how carnal men glory in their empty shows, and how disdainfully and recklessly they despise me, as though there were nothing in me but what is mean and base, while they, in the mean time, were standing on a lofty eminence. But their confidence is foolish, for that armor of the Lord, with which I fight, will prevail in opposition to all the bulwarks, in reliance upon which they believe themselves to be invincible. Now, as the world is accustomed to fortify itself in a twofold respect for waging war with Christ -- on the one hand, by cunning, by wicked artifices, by subtilty, and other secret machinations; and, on the other hand, by cruelty and oppression, he touches upon both these methods. For by contrivances he means, whatever pertains to carnal wisdom.
The term high thing denotes any kind of glory and power in this world. There is no reason, therefore, why a servant of Christ should dread anything, however formidable, that may stand up in opposition to his doctrine. Let him, in spite of it, persevere, and he will scatter to the winds every machination of whatever sort. Nay more, the kingdom of Christ cannot be set up or established, otherwise than by throwing down everything in the world that is exalted. For nothing is more opposed to the spiritual wisdom of God than the wisdom of the flesh; nothing is more at variance with the grace of God than man's natural ability, and so as to other things. Hence the only foundation of Christ's kingdom is the abasement of men. And to this effect are those expressions in the Prophets:
The moon shall be ashamed, and the sun shall be confounded, when the Lord shall begin to reign in that day; (Isaiah 24:23.)
The loftiness of man shall be bowed down, and the high looks of mortals shall be abased, and the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day.(Isaiah 5:15, and Isaiah 2:17)
Because, in order that God alone may shine forth, it is necessary that the glory of the world should vanish away.
5. And bring into captivity I am of opinion, that, having previously spoken more particularly of the conflict of spiritual armor, along with the hinderances that rise up in opposition to the gospel of Christ, he now, on the other hand, speaks of the ordinary preparation, by which men must be brought into subjection to him. For so long as we rest in our own judgment, and are wise in our own estimation, we are far from having made any approach to the doctrine of Christ. Hence we must set out with this, that
he who is wise must become a fool, (1 Corinthians 3:18,)
that is, we must give up our own understanding, and renounce the wisdom of the flesh, and thus we must present our minds to Christ empty that he may fill them. Now the form of expression must be observed, when he says, that he brings every thought into captivity, for it is as though he had said, that the liberty of the human mind must be restrained and bridled, that it may not be wise, apart from the doctrine of Christ; and farther, that its audacity cannot be restrained by any other means, than by its being carried away, as it were, captive. Now it is by the guidance of the Spirit, that it is brought to allow itself to be placed under control, and remain in a voluntary captivity.
6. And are in readiness to avenge. This he adds, lest insolent men should presumptuously lift themselves up in opposition to his ministry, as if they could do so with impunity. Hence he says, that power had been given him -- not merely for constraining voluntary disciples to subjection to Christ, but also for inflicting vengeance upon the rebellious, and that his threats were not empty bugbears, but had the execution quite in readiness -- to use the customary expression. Now this vengeance is founded on Christ's word --
whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound also in heaven. (Matthew 18:18.)
For although God does not thunder forth immediately on the minister's pronouncing the sentence, yet the decision is ratified, and will be accomplished in its own time. Let it, however, be always understood, that it is when the minister fights with spiritual armor. Some understand it as referring to bodily punishments, by means of which the Apostles inflicted vengeance upon contumacious and impious persons; as for example, Peter struck Ananias and Sapphira dead, and Paul struck Elymas the sorcerer blind. (Acts 5:1-10, and Acts 13:6-11.) But the other meaning suits better, for the Apostles did not make use of that power invariably or indiscriminately. Paul, however, speaks in general terms that he has vengeance ready at hand against all the disobedient.
When your obedience shall be fulfilled How prudently he guards against alienating any by excessive severity! For as he had threatened to inflict punishment upon the rebellious, that he may not seem to provoke them, he declares that another duty had been enjoined upon him with regard to them -- simply that of making them obedient to Christ. And, unquestionably, this is the proper intention of the gospel, as he teaches both in the commencement and in the close of the Epistle to the Romans. (Romans 1:5, and Romans 16:26.) Hence all Christian teachers ought carefully to observe this order, that they should first endeavor with gentleness to bring their hearers to obedience, so as to invite them kindly before proceeding to inflict punishment upon rebellion. Hence, too, Christ has given the commandment as to loosing before that of binding.